The Queen in good spirits during her visit to Ascot in October.

A version of this story appeared in the April 22 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.

London CNN  — 

We so rarely see the Queen show emotion in public, so we’re often asked what exactly her personality is like.

She does have opinions and feelings, of course, but Elizabeth II knows that if she expresses them it could alienate some people and undermine her duty to represent all her subjects as an impartial head of state. If you’re looking for universal approval, the best response is often to give no response at all.

But behind palace walls, the Queen can be herself – and we got a peek into that this week when Prince Harry spoke about his visit with her at Windsor Castle last Thursday.

“Being with her, it was great. It was just so nice to see her. You know, she’s on great form. She has always got a great sense of humor,” he told NBC.

That was reassuring for many who have been concerned at the number of public engagements the monarch has pulled out of due to mobility issues. By all accounts, she is mentally as fit as ever and keeping up with essential paperwork from her desk at Windsor.

The Queen turned 96 on Thursday – by some distance the longest a British monarch has lived. In the last few months, she’s battled Covid and has had to scale back her schedule.

But she was celebrated by her relatives and politicians alike on reaching yet another milestone, and Buckingham Palace released a new photo of her smiling alongside two horses to mark the occasion.

Queen Elizabeth II with her two Fell ponies, in a photo released to mark her 96th birthday.

In recent years, she’s started cracking a few jokes and appearing relaxed with attendees at her engagements – at the G7 summit last year she used a giant sword to cut a cake, forgoing the offer of a knife because “this is more unusual.”

But the new image of her is a fitting one, because the time we usually see the Queen being herself in public is at the races. She’s a respected horse breeder and loves to win; last year she was even inducted into British Racing’s Hall of Fame for her “outstanding contribution to British flat racing.”

Elizabeth is currently planning to go to the prestigious Epsom Derby which falls during a weekend of celebrations in June to mark her Platinum Jubilee. If everything goes her way, we could see a smile on her face as she has entered three horses she bred into the race.

She was all smiles in October, too, when she attended races at the Ascot racecourse. Jockey Willie Carson used to ride for the Queen – the pair get on famously well, and they were pictured sharing a joke at the October event – so CNN asked him what tickled her so much.

“She said to me, ‘Willie, I’ve just been inducted into the Hall of Fame for the turf here.’ She says, ‘The medal is so, so heavy. The medal’s so heavy.’

“She said, ‘Have you ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame?’ No, ma’am. You’ve got to be old or dead to get into that.”

When CNN expressed surprise that Carson got away with the quip, he said, “Well, I didn’t know what was saying, did I?”

It’s telling that Carson briefly forgot himself as he was speaking to the most famous woman in the world. It’s in those moments that she too forgets her role, and is able to be herself. Asked what she’s like as a person, he replies: “Normal, normal, just a normal person. Very nice.”


Prince Harry rides a bike at Zuiderpark in The Hague, during the Invictus Games.

Harry shines at the Invictus Games.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Prince Harry. After sneaking into Windsor with Meghan on a secret visit to the Queen last Thursday, he jetted to the Netherlands for the fifth edition of the Invictus Games, the sporting competition for wounded veterans that he established in 2014.

The event was twice postponed due to the pandemic, and Harry and Meghan have spent most of the last two years at their home in the US, raising their two children and building a media empire.

But the week-long sporting festival in The Hague saw Harry at his most comfortable – cycling around the tournament’s complex to meet with competitors and promote the mission of the games to the world’s media.

During the week he was spotted playing a round of table tennis, cheering on powerlifters and wheelchair rugby players from the crowd, and even cuddling a service dog in between events.

Prince Harry watches the weightlifting at the Invictus Games.

He also used his speech at the opening ceremony to send a public message of support to Ukraine. “We stand with you. The world is united with you. And you still deserve more,” he told the crowd.

The competition, which wraps up on Friday, has provided a perfect illustration of the kind of service Harry envisaged when he announced his split from the royal family in early 2020.

But there were reminders, too, of the intense intrigue in his relationship with the rest of the royals. Harry made headlines by telling NBC he wanted to make sure the Queen is “protected” and has “the right people around her” – though he didn’t explain whether he was referring to palace aides or relatives.

Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge were asked about those comments as they left an engagement on Thursday, but didn’t respond.

In the Netherlands, Harry’s mind appears to be a world away from those tricky topics for now. “He’s just having a blast at the games,” Invictus Games Foundation Director David Wiseman told PA Media. “This is what he lives for. He thrives in this environment.”


Tom Cruise to lead jubilee celebration.

A handful of A-list entertainers will be involved in the first major televised event of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year next month. Topping the bill is “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise and silver screen legend Helen Mirren, who herself played Elizabeth II in the 2006 film “The Queen.” The pair will host segments of a theatrical arena event broadcast from the grounds of Windsor Castle on May 15, British network ITV announced Thursday. It’s not clear if the Queen will attend; she has a busy schedule of events coming up to mark her anniversary on the throne, including a live concert at Buckingham Palace in June.

The Queen gets the Barbie treatment.

Two institutions – the Royal Family and Barbie dolls – have collided at last, in the form of a miniature model of Queen Elizabeth II that was released Thursday to mark the monarch’s upcoming jubilee. Barbie’s newest doll features the Queen in her instantly recognizable ivory gown and blue riband, and even includes a tiny crown. The doll is part of Barbie’s Tribute collection, and the company says it will help carry its message that youngsters “can be anything” – leaving parents with the tricky job of explaining hereditary monarchy to their little ones.

05 royal newsletter 0421

Charles praises those giving homes to refugees.

Prince Charles used his Easter message to draw attention to displaced people who are “wounded by the past, (and) fearful of the future.” The heir to the throne said he’s been “heartbroken” when speaking with people who have fled conflict over the course of his life. But he added that it has been “profoundly moving to see how so many people are ready to open their homes to those in need.” More than 200,000 people in Britain have expressed interest in housing refugees from Ukraine since the UK government opened a scheme to rehouse those escaping Russia’s invasion.


Prince Edward and Sophie will still visit other nations in the Caribbean.

Edward cancels part of Caribbean trip.

A planned trip to Grenada by Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was scrapped at the last minute on Thursday, with little explanation given.

The move came after discussions with the Governor General about the couple’s itinerary. The couple will still visit Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda, as planned, during a six-day tour that begins Friday.

It’s rare for a national royal visit, which is usually carefully planned long in advance, to be canceled so suddenly.

But the timing is curious; the cancellation comes just weeks after a disastrous trip to the Caribbean by William and Kate, which was derailed by awkward photo-ops and demonstrations over the royal family’s role in the slave trade.

Republican sentiment is also present throughout much of the Caribbean, including in Grenada, and that topic has been highlighted since nearby Barbados moved on from the Queen as its head of state late last year, a decision supported by the royals.

We’ll wait to see if Prince Edward’s Grenada visit is rescheduled in the coming months, and how smoothly the rest of their tour goes – but it’s clear that the royals are going to face more scrutiny when they tour parts of the Commonwealth.


tree of trees buckingham render

An artist’s rendering of the “Tree of Trees,” a 69-foot sculpture which is set to be built outside Buckingham Palace. It’s made up of 350 different kinds of British trees and will form a centerpiece of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June.